Monday, June 6, 2011

Domestic violence in Colorado.

“Domestic violence,” or DV, is not actually a separate crime in Colorado.  Rather, it is a sentence enchancer: it makes the underlying offense more serious.  Assault (causing bodily injury), harassment (e.g. touching a person, threatening him, repeated telephone calling), false imprisonment (restricting one’s freedom of movement), criminal mischief (damaging another’s property) and criminal trespass (being or remaining where you have no right to be) seem to be the usual acts underlying DV cases. 

In sum, if you are charged with committing bad acts against someone you have had or are having an intimate relationship with, it could be domestic violence as very broadly defined by Colorado law.  If convicted - which includes a plea agreement amounting to an admission of guilt - your sentence could be that provided for the underlying crime(s) (jail, probation, therapy, fines, costs, etc.) plus the sentence provided for domestic violence crimes (usually lengthy domestic violence “treatment,” possible loss of your right to possess weapons, and other restrictions and punishments).

For most DV suspects, the biggest issues they face - at least early on- are the no contact and/or restraining orders, together referred to as protection orders, which begin to go into effect once charges are formalized. 

“Restraining orders” automatically go into effect once you are charged, preventing you from harassing, threatening, intimidating, etc. witnesses and the alleged victim(s).  “No contact orders” must be imposed by a judge, and they routinely are in DV cases, preventing you from contacting the alleged victim.  No contact means just that: no telephone calls, no emails, no letters, no visits, no communication.  Generally, having someone else contact the alleged victim is prohibited.  Accepting contact from the alleged victim is prohibited, even if he or she wants contact.

Violation of a protection order is a separate crime.  It also can be a bond violation resulting in jail if a bond securing your release from jail is in effect at the time of violation.

Can no contact orders be lifted (canceled) or modified (usually to allow telephone contact only)?  Yes, but be patient.  First, the alleged victim or victims usually have to request it (repeatedly) of the district attorney’s office.  That office then may prepare a written motion to the judge conveying the request.  The DA’s office may be for or against modification or lifting of the order.  In effect, the no contact order amounts to a great deal of leverage over the defendant to take a plea (well over 90% of criminal cases in Colorado plea “bargain” without trial) and resolve the case quickly just to try to get the order lifted.  Meanwhile no contact orders remain in place, and are strictly enforced, unless and until lifted or modified by a judge, which can take weeks or months if ever (in some plea agreements, the DA’s office will insist on a permanent no contact order).

While the protection orders are in place, you must defend against the charges.  Domestic violence charges can be misdemeanor or felony level.  Most are misdemeanors prosecuted in county court (felony cases end up in district court and involve different procedures and stiffer penalties). 

The DV prosecution process is long and deliberative.  For the accused it is frustrating, emotionally trying, and devastating to the family structure and finances (especially if a no contact order is in place requiring couples to live apart).  Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease, and some families and relationships never recover.  Of course the process can be equally hard on the alleged victim or victims, if not more so.

If you believe you are innocent, don’t give up.  Just because you were arrested doesn’t mean a crime was committed, especially in DV cases, where many well-intentioned peace officers believe they are required to make an arrest regardless of circumstances.  Many times self-defense and other defenses are available.  Let the equally deliberative defense process work its way, and understand that defending yourself is your right (especially before you consider a plea).

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